Herbach, Geoff. Fat Boy vs. The Cheerleaders
May 6th 2014
by Sourcebooks Fire
ARC from Baker and Taylor
Gabe (aka "Chunk") is an overweight band geek who tries to deal with several factors in his life by ingesting vast quantities of Mountain Dew Code Red, which he purchases from the school vending machine at exorbitant prices. He doesn't mind as much, though, because the proceeds of the pop machine go to his school band, which he loves. When he finds out that not only have prices gone up, but that the money is benefiting a new cheer leading/dance team, he realizes that he must not only do something about the band funding issue, but about his own life. He enlists the aid of his former body builder grandfather, and starts exercising and cutting back on junk food, which is hard, since he works at a doughnut shop. This irritates his friend Justin, who stood by Chunk when his mother ran off with a Japanese architect, but endears him to coworkers Gore (so named because of her Goth appearance) and RCIII (a football player). When the band director, mourning the loss of the program funding, is arrested for drunken driving, Chunk realizes that he must do something to save band. He gathers a group and plans a protest/fundraiser, enlisting the help of a now famous alumnus to raise awareness. When this is not enough, he robs the pop machine of an insignificant amount of money, which is enough to get him arrested. The book is told from the point of view of the transcript of his post-arrest interview with the school principal.
Strengths: As with his author's Stupid Fast, the angst of a teen boy is shown in all its glory. Gabe has problems to deal with, and finally realizes there are better ways to do this. His friends come and go. There's romance, the best literary grandpa EVER, and a social agenda that many of us can get solidly behind. (I never said that cheerleaders are the anti-librarians. Never.) This is pitch perfect for the single mindedness that characterizes teens.. for thirty seconds, before they move on to the next thing. Or not.
I do VERY much appreciate that the language is cleaned up-- no f-bombs. That said, there are going to be some 6th graders who are scandalized by the frequent use of balls, shit, and other mild profanities. I can deal with that, and the 8th graders will love it. I also thought the supportive language arts teacher (who has excellent advice) was possibly a nice tribute to Mr. Herbach's mother. Will buy two copies right away!
Weaknesses: While the flashback/interview format works to a large extent, it is slightly awkward at times.